February 2012 Archives
Yes, yes, politics based on hating a group of people is a horrible thing. But what about a politics based on hating people generally?
There are curmudgeons, and then there's Paul Kingsnorth's clear but strange episode of human-loathing in Orion Magazine. After three stories that tell of his bonding to the non-human world, he treats readers to a blast against environmentalism that takes humans into account:
And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the magic is dying. It's me. It's us....
[Sustainability] means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world's rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the "natural capital" or the "resource base" that is needed to do so.
It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for "the planet." In a very short time—just over a decade—this worldview has become all-pervasive...
...This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world's remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy.
This stuff was realistic, necessarily urgent. It went with the grain of human nature and the market, which as we now know are the same thing. We didn't have time to "romanticize" the woods and the hills. There were emissions to reduce, and the end justified the means.
...This desperate scrabble for "sustainable development" was in reality the same old same old. People I had thought were on my side were arguing aggressively for the industrializing of wild places in the name of human desire....
Now it seemed that environmentalism was not about wildness or ecocentrism or the other-than-human world and our relationship to it. Instead it was about (human) social justice and (human) equality and (human) progress and ensuring that all these things could be realized without degrading the (human) resource base that we used to call nature back when we were being naïve and problematic.
Suddenly, sustaining a global human population of 10 billion people was not a problem at all...
Ok, stop there. He hit the hard problem, the problem that's been driving a lot of the conversations he so plainly hates - and a problem he offers nothing to solve.
The huge challenge that everyone on earth faces right now is that there are so many of us, our population having grown dramatically while we were binging on resources we'd unlocked. Those resources no longer seem endless, and we're even realizing that there may be larger consquences to our burning resources than the toxic areas we've noticed.
Rolling back to the simpler life he dreams of is a radical idea, but one that likely requires radical steps. He casts Pol Pot and Stalin as fueled by "ideas of equality and justice" when fending off a "well, Hitler was a vegetarian" argument. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to recognize - or perhaps care? - that the sudden shift he proposes would require humans to die on a scale that makes all three of them (and Mao) seem like amateurs.
Once people are urbanized (or work with industrial tools even outside an urban environment) for a generation or a few, inducted into the lifestyles Kingsnorth so plainly despises, it's not so easy to bring them back into an ecocentric world where they consider themselves responsible to the environment and not the other way around. "Go live in company with the earth" can be a vocation for some, but would be a death sentence for many.
I'm not sure that bothers Kingsnorth. The only people he seems to like in his piece are Wordsworth and his friends on Twyford Down in the 1990s, who were "genuinely ecocentric". The rest of us are compromised, political, even - gasp! - interested in the well-being of our fellow humans.
In a rare moment of thinking how the arguments inside the environmental movement might play with people outside of it, he gripes about:
something known as "eco-socialism": a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95 percent of the population.
Is Kingsnorth's eco-nihilism any easier to sell? I doubt it.
Eco-socialism in the form Kingsnorth satirizes may well be nonsense, but his blasting on anything that smacks of human solidarity with other humans sounds like the path to a number of horrible fates.
I don't have much fondness for people so entranced by the world that they forget they're not alone. Whether that worldliness is financial or earth-centered, a lack of interest in the fate of your fellow humans seems like a large crack in the foundations.
Kingsnorth is "leaving on a pilgrimage to find what I left behind in the jungles and by the cold campfires", abandoning the project of people trying to save, well, anything, themselves or the planet. I'm not sure what he hopes for - perhaps a sudden collapse of human civilization that forces us to live the way he wants, with no time to cause more damage to the earth?
Perhaps he is an optimist in his own way, leaving to let the rest of us make all the nasty compromises that might possibly lead to a softer landing for his planet than the alternatives.
Update: Here's an interesting contrast, a piece that starts with similar questions and goes completely different places.